At 3am Thursday morning the temperature in Tweed Heads was a brisk 9 degrees.
While most locals were rugged up in the comfort of their bed, Ann McConnell and eight of her colleagues at the Department of Human Services were braving the elements outside with just a sleeping bag and a strip of cardboard.
They, along with more than 50 other participants, were trading their homes for the street to take part in the Fred’s Place Community Sleepout and raise awareness for homelessness in the Tweed community.
Established in 2013 by the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW Lismore Central Council, Fred’s Place is an intervention and prevention support service that assists people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness in the Tweed region.
Ann, a Social Work Support Manager with the department , said the Sleepout was a small glimpse of the tough conditions those experiencing homelessness face.
“It’s extremely difficult to get any sleep when it’s cold outside, and you only have a sleeping bag and some cardboard to protect yourself from the elements,” Ann said.
“Everyone was tossing and turning constantly throughout the night trying to find some small comfort”.
The evening also helped highlight the importance of the work being done to tackle homelessness throughout Australia.
“Spending the night like this really reinforces how vital the role of the department and organisations like Fred’s Place is,” Ann said.
“Every day the department’s social workers and Community Engagement Officers are providing assistance to vulnerable members in our local communities, helping them overcome barriers and access the support they need.
“This can often involve assisting people to access income support, or connecting them with local accommodation providers to ensure they have a roof over their head while they get back on their feet.”
Prior to climbing into their sleeping bags ahead of a long night, participants heard from an expert Q&A panel from the St Vincent de Paul Society about the realities of homelessness.
Kelly Hunter, a Programme Support Manager at the department’s Murwillumbah Service Centre, said the session proved insightful and rewarding.
“It’s quite confronting hearing the difficulties those experiencing homelessness encounter every day. Having a bed to sleep in, and a place to call home every night, are things we often take for granted,” Kelly said.
“But it was inspiring to hear some of the great outcomes Fred’s Place had helped achieve, like assisting people to source permanent accommodation and pursue employment opportunities.”
Jason McDonald, Service Manager at Fred’s Place, said vital funds raised through special fundraising events such as the Fred’s Place Community Sleepout, can help the community’s most vulnerable people to rebuild their lives.
“We are extremely grateful to everyone who supported the 2016 Fred’s Place Community Sleepout and are delighted to announce over $35,000 was raised on the night,” Mr McDonald said.
“The money raised from the 2016 Fred’s Place Community Sleepout will, without a doubt, enhance the lives of those facing homelessness in the Tweed region.”
Learn more about Fred’s Place.